A semiotics of sex roles in French society was played out in 18th- and 19th-century ballet by projecting it onto imaginary Native American societies.
In the 18th century, sauvage culture became a canvas for the projection of utopian sentiment with subtle social texturing, allowing the expression of fantasies of less restrictive sexual roles; in the 19th century, sauvagerie became grotesque and increasingly unrefined, shifting the emphasis from cultural to racial difference and affirming the status quo.
This according to “Sauvages, sex roles, and semiotics: Representations of Native Americans in the French ballet, 1736–1837” by Joellen A. Meglen (Dance chronicle XXIII/2  pp. 87–132; XXIII/3  pp. 275–320).
Above and below, Rameau’s Les Indes galantes (1735).
Related article: Comedy versus opera
On 26 April 1706, in a solemn ceremony in Rome, Arcangelo Corelli was accepted as a member of the Accademia dell’Arcadia; as customary, he assumed a shepherd’s name: Arcomelo.
Forty years later, the Swiss Jesuit Martin Schmid copied several of Corelli’s works into his draft-book of music for the Indian community in Bolivia that he was fostering and overseeing—a community that was sometimes known as New Arcadia.
In Bolivia, Corelli’s Arcadian music was subjected to a radical metamorphosis by those who understood Indian performers and audiences. His works were thereby consigned to a museum of cultural symbols as objects of a revered past.
This according to “Arcadia meets Utopia: Corelli in the South American wildnerness” by Leonardo J. Waisman, an essay included in Arcangelo Corelli: Fra mito e realtà storica–Nuove prospettive d’indagine musicologica e interdisciplinare nel 350° anniversario dalla nascita (Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 2007, pp. 651–85).
Today is Corelli’s 360th birthday! Below, the original version of one of the works that was subjected to a Bolivian metamorphosis.
As one of the most powerful nonpolitical figures at Louis XIV’s court, Lully was far from immune to its culture of intrigue.
Henri Guichard, a perpetrator of various frauds and a rival at the court, hatched a plot to poison Lully in 1674, and approached a corrupt police officer, Sébastien Aubry, who had access to the Opéra and often saw Lully there. The unfolding of the plot, which involved a poisoned snuff box, had a strong element of farce as Aubry ineptly attempted to play both ends against the middle, jockeying for his own best interests while appearing to assist Guichard.
Eventually a mutual associate tipped off the composer, who formally accused Aubry of conspiracy to commit murder. Guichard exercised what influence he could, but Lully, as a close associate of the king himself, had the upper hand. In the end, the composer was able to delay the case until the only two dissenting judges finished their terms of duty.
This according to Jean-Baptiste Lully by Ralph Henry Forster Scott (London: Owen, 1973, pp. 76–83). Today is Lully’s 380th birthday! Below, Boris Terral portrays the composer in Gérard Corbiau’s Le roi danse (2000).
Related article: Comedy versus opera
In 2012 Carus-Verlag launched the series Bach-Repertorium to make available for study and performance the compositions of all members of the widespread Bach family of musicians from the 17th into the 19th century.
For the first time, as a result of systematic research covering all musical and archive sources, all compositions attributed to members of the Bach family will be categorized according to the same criteria. In addition to details of scoring, succession of movements, and history of the works and sources, information is given concerning editions, authentication, and the most important literary references.
In the case of vocal works the origins of the texts, editions of the librettos, and the chorale melodies used are verified. Also covered are arrangements of works by other composers, editions with which the composer was involved, and—as far as it can be reconstructed—his music library.
An appendix includes arrangements by others, and spurious works are also described. The accompanying music examples document in short score the beginning of each movement and the structurally important sections of the compositions, providing for an initial insight into the works. The use of the volumes is facilitated by numerous indices.
Although we think of Bach as a paragon of devotion to duty and hard work, school records indicate that as a child he was an inveterate class cutter. This gives a wrong impression, however; he was most likely helping out in the family business—singing, that is (he had a very fine soprano voice) at weddings, baptisms, anniversaries, and burials.
Still, when the 22-year-old Bach resigned his first major job in 1707 the management may have felt relieved, because he had accumulated quite a list of complaints: he had introduced too many surprising variations into the chorales, confusing the congregation; he had extended a four-week professional-development leave to study with Buxtehude to a full four months; and he was known to slip temporarily off the organ bench during a Sunday sermon to refresh himself at the local winery.
This according to Bach-ABC (Sinzig: Studio-Verlag, 2007). Above, a portrait of Bach when he was a young man; below, Robert Tiso plays Bach’s music on wine glasses.
Today, on the 230th anniversary of the death of virtuoso castrato Farinelli (1705–82), let’s make a pilgrimage to his grave, as did the authors of a study that involved exhuming him to gain insight into his biological profile.
Born Carlo Broschi, Farinelli was castrated before puberty to preserve the treble pitch of the boy’s voice into adult life, and his powerful and sweet voice became legendary. His skeleton displayed some characteristics that are probably related to the effects of castration, including long limb-bones, persistence of epiphyseal lines, and osteoporosis.
In particular, the frontal bone was affected by severe hyperostosis frontalis interna (HFI), a symmetrical thickening of the inner table of the bone. HFI is relatively common in postmenopausal women but very rare in men. In the case of Farinelli, castration was probably responsible for the onset and development of this condition.
This according to “Hyperostosis frontalis interna
(HFI) and castration: The case of the famous singer Farinelli (1705–1782)” by Maria Giovanna Belcastro, Antonio Todero, Gino Fornaciari, and Valentina Mariotti (Journal of anatomy
CCXIX/5 [November 2011] pp. 632–37).
Above, a portrait of Farinelli by Corrado Giaquinto; below, an excerpt from the 1994 biopic by Gérard Corbiau.
La verità mascherata (Milan, 1681), an anonymous and apparently fictional account of a libertine’s reform, includes a description of an elaborate opera performance on the occasion of a royal wedding.
The account suggests that 17th-century Italian audiences were neither silent nor attentive during overtures and instrumental interludes; that the danced intermezzi were barely considered part of the opera at all (Italians apparently regarded stage dancing as comical and grotesque at that time); and that drunkenness and lasciviousness were freely depicted on the stage. The story ends with the hero renouncing opera and retiring to a monastery.
This according to “A Jesuit at the opera in 1680” by Edward Joseph Dent, an essay included in Riemann-Festschrift: Gesammelte Studien–Hugo Riemann zum sechzigsten Geburtstage überreicht von Freunden und Schülern (Leipzig: Hesse, 1909, pp. 381–393); the book is covered in RILM’s Liber amicorum: Festschriften for music scholars and nonmusicians, 1840–1966 (2009, 100 years after the article was published).
Above, Sharin Apostolou in a production of La Calisto, a 1651 opera by Francesco Cavalli that could have helped to form the impression of Italian comic opera depicted in La verità mascherata. Below, an excerpt from a 1996 performance in Brussels.
Related article: Operatic degeneracy I
Giovanni Gabrieli’s unique achievement was the unification of two opposing styles that had been developing throughout the Renaissance: the local Venetian technique involving antiphonal masses of sound and the international technique of interwoven melodic strands.
Having assimilated both traditions, he resolved their conflicts in his Symphoniae sacrae of 1597 and especially of 1615; in so doing, he crossed the border between Renaissance and Baroque and penetrated well into the new territory.
To allow full appreciation of these works, the choirs must not be widely separated: The optimum situation is that depicted in the frontispiece of the tenor part of the fifth volume of Praetorius’s Musae Sioniae (1607, inset; click to enlarge), with one choir on the floor and the other two in balconies on their right and left. The impact must come not from the juxtaposition of masses of sound, but from clarity of texture.
This according to “Texture versus mass in the music of Giovanni Gabrieli” by George Wallace Woodworth, a contribution to Essays on music in honor of Archibald Thompson Davison (Cambridge: Harvard University Department of Music, 1957, pp. 129–138.
Today is the 400th anniversary of Gabrieli’s death! (His birth date is not known.) Below, Green Mountain Project performs his Magnificat à 14, which was published posthumously in 1615.
In 1612 France’s Queen Regent, Marie de Médicis, betrothed her son Louis XIII to King Philip III of Spain’s daughter Anne. Louis and Anne were both ten years old.
The engagement was celebrated with Le Carrousel du Roi, a lavish public extravaganza that involved magnificently costumed processions, wild beasts, giants, acrobats, elaborate floats, numerous court musicians, and an elegant equestrian ballet. Approximately 200,000 people crowded into the Place Royale to watch the spectacle.
This according to “Dances with horses” by Carolyn Miller (Early music America VIII/2 [summer 2002] pp. 30–33). Below, music composed by Lully for a later royal carrousel.
Related article: Le ballet de la nuit
In 2011 Biblioteca Musicale LIM launched Miscellanea Ruspoli, a series centered around the noble Ruspoli family of Florence, with Studi sulla musica dell´età barocca.
Edited by Giorgio Monari, the volume includes articles by Monari, Warren Kirkendale, Giulia Giovani, Ilaria Grippaudo, Ugo Piovano, and Alessia Silvaggi.